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COL Don't blame teachers for budget woes

By Lynette Lenoch-Craft

As president of the Rochester Education Association, I feel compelled to comment on the editorial in last Saturday's paper. First of all, I would like to thank you for recognizing that Gov. Pawlenty's budget is "anemic."

I do, however, have to ask on what data do you make the following statement: "If big changes to teachers' pay structure can be accomplished, there is potential for significant improvement to the district's budget problems."

If you're saying teacher salary increases are to blame for the district's financial problems, that's absurd. We received a minuscule .65 percent and 1 percent salary adjustment the last contract, while absorbing a 7.23 percent increase in insurance premiums and an 8.12 percent increase in the cost of pharmaceuticals.

We have quality teachers in Rochester. We have always held ourselves accountable for high standards of professional excellence. How do I know that? I have been in all of the schools in our district, talked to teachers, visited with students, observed instruction and looked at data.

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I have seen teachers teaching in classrooms with 30 or more students, in makeshift classrooms so they can work with small groups, staying at their buildings until well into the evening or on weekends, and the list goes on and on.

If that is not enough information, how about the fact that last year's seniors scored the highest, in the country, mind you, on the ACTs. This year we have three Rochester teachers who are semi-finalists for Minnesota Teacher of the Year. Yes, you read it correctly, not one but three! As one of my colleagues so eloquently remarked, "The students in our community receive a Cadillac education at a department store price."

We all have a stake in the education of our children. Have we lost sight of the fact they will be our leaders, inventors, and providers in the future? I desperately hope not.

So the governor has proposed a "$60 million pot of money …; for teachers' compensation and support." If you're pinning your hopes on QComp as a new source of revenue, that is also unrealistic. Only a small percentage of teachers in Minnesota can benefit. Not every district will receive these extra funds.

This money is guaranteed into perpetuity. Does anyone know where the money will come from? If the 2001 Legislature promised to pay at least 80 percent of the bills and never did, what makes us believe money will be available for performance pay? Maybe we just bring it to the local level and add more onto property taxes! That's exactly what is happening in Denver. They have been working on a Professional Compensation System for Teachers since 2003. For their plan to move forward, a huge mill levy must be approved by voters in November.

Alternative compensation offers an opportunity for discussion. The REA and the district jointly studied this issue several years ago. One major outcome from that study was sustainable funding. In order for the discussion to continue and go forward there must be adequate and sustainable funding; community and staff buy-in; use of objective, understandable, and predictable criteria; collaboration, not competition; and multiple tools for evaluation.

One parting thought: Our current contract expires on June 30. We will negotiate with the district in good faith. But, with all due respect, our negotiations will play out at the table, not in the Post-Bulletin.

Lynette Lenoch-Craft is president of the Rochester Education Association.

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